How to navigate the challenges of leadership in heavy industry

Leadership can be tough at the best of times. But when you add an old school culture, changing technology, and a diverse workforce, leadership gets even harder. This is what leaders in heavy industry are faced with. The last say five to ten years has seen unprecedented change in heavy industrial organisations. 

The question is, how do you navigate these challenges, and continue to develop your leadership skills, amid the change and the challenges? 

Having a mix of corporate and heavy industry clients, I can see what happens in both worlds and how they differ. For our heavy industry leaders, these are the clients that I have seen having to learn the most and adapt the most.  

1. Old school culture and boys’ clubs are on their way out 

This is the big one. The new age leadership style is here, and it is here to stay. We are not going back to the shouting or swearing at each other. Telling inappropriate jokes, having naked posters in crib rooms or being offensive to other humans. 

Yes, there is an expectation of leaders (and workers) in 2022, that they will adapt to the new normal, the new workplace. Where it is easy to be offensive, and leaders need to understand that. They need to change their languaging and their behaviour. They need to develop emotional intelligence. For some, with 40 of 50 years of heavy industry experience, this is proving difficult. Rightly so. It is a massive change. 

Some people might term this section ‘political correctness’, and they might even follow that up with ‘has gone mad’. I am ok with political correctness, because it makes us all learn how to be better humans, and not offend others (intentionally or unintentionally). 

My experience is that some leaders are holding onto the old school, but most are trying to adapt. And congratulations to them, as their teams and organisations are the beneficiaries of their growth and upgraded skills.  

If you are reading this, and want to make some changes, reach out to us, or start with some work on your conversational skills and emotional intelligence. They are great places to start. 

2. Technology is not going anywhere  

This is perhaps the biggest challenge for heavy industry. It appears to be being embraced well. Or at least to the point where leaders know what technology they need to utilise, and they go and get some training or some instruction on how to use it. 

One thing about technology is that it is getting easier to use. Whether it is remote equipment operating technology or messaging apps on a phone, the interaction element of technology has taken massive leaps forward in recent years.  

For senior leaders, the biggest challenge remains in the cyber security space, with hacker attacks being a very real risk.  

For me, technology is such a big part of our lives, that I feel like it shouldn’t rate as a key challenge for heavy industry leaders, but I still hear some of the challenges that leaders face during coaching sessions.  

I only ever have one piece of coaching for leaders struggling with technology, and that is to get through the fear of learning something new, and jump in. Do what it takes to learn the technology or software as quickly as you can and move onto the next one.  

3. Workforces are becoming more and more diverse 

Heavy industry is becoming more diverse by the day. Which is great, as people shouldn’t be discriminated due to something about them that doesn’t affect how well they can perform their work. 

Referring to point 1, where a lot of leaders (and workers) are old school, having an indigenous person, a transgender person, or anyone from the LGBTIQA+ community for that matter, can be a challenge. But why? Why do some people struggle with people who are different to us?  

It is a challenge because it is so different to how a lot of people in heavy industry were raised (me included). If you can reframe the situation, though, and find a positive, everyone is just another human, and someone to engage with and learn from. It really can be that simple. No need to complicate it. 

Just another human. But there are a range of peripheral challenges that come with diverse workforces, toileting access being one example. None of these challenges are insurmountable. It takes some acceptance and some tolerance on the part of the leader. 

In summary, old school is out, technology and diversity are in. In 2022. And these changes are challenging for some leaders in heavy industry. As a closing comment, I was part of a conversation recently, where I was advocating for more progressive leadership thinking. The person I was talking about was an ally (and worked on a heavy industrial site with about 1,000 people), and the conversation ended with the statement from that person to the effect of “the best thing that could happen to our outdated workforce is for us to hire a transgender or other minority group person, so that everyone has to learn to be accepting.” Well said I thought. 

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About Anton

Anton has dedicated his working life to helping leaders to upgrade their mindset, upskill their leadership, and uplift their teams! With a focus on helps leaders to better lead under pressure. Anton is an entrepreneur, speaker, consultant, bestselling author and founder of The Guinea Group. Over the past 19 years, Anton has worked with over 175+ global organisations, he has inspired workplace leadership, safety, and cultural change. He’s achieved this by combining his corporate expertise, education (Bachelor of HR and Psychology), and infectious energy levels.
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